Office sharing, co-working, whichever moniker you prefer was becoming a rather fashionable trend in South Africa before lockdown and COVID-19 brought all non-essential businesses to a grinding halt.

With businesses not operating, many business owners began the unenviable task of re-negotiating rental agreements, rental deferrals and some have been pushed so far as to cancel rentals altogether.

As Hypertext has made use of co-working spaces in some capacity or another since our inception, we wanted to find out how local operators were addressing the needs and worries of local businesses.

One of those spaces is Workshop17. Established in 2012, Workshop17 has seven locations in the Western Cape and Gauteng and plans to double that number in the next three years.

We contacted Workshop17 co-founder and chief executive officer, Paul Keursten, to ask about measures the firm has put in place due to the pandemic, how buildings will change with social distancing in mind and more.

But most importantly we asked about rent and whether Workshop17 has given its members any sort of relief during the lockdown period.

The short answer is yes it has.

“As a founder-led business, we understand how challenging this period is, especially for the SMME community. This is not an easy time for many of us. We are doing our best to support members who are in financial distress – and have offered, for example, discounted rental rates for a specific period, pauses on rental increases, and free credits for on-site services like our cafes,” says Keursten.

The co-founder goes on to say that Workshop17 has adopted an open-door policy meaning it’s willing to negotiate additional relief with members who are really struggling.

In addition, there will be no price increases for Workshop17 memberships and private offices until early 2021.

Workshop17 also recognises that being asked to work from home was tough for many firms who simply weren’t prepared for that leap. As such the firm created W17.world, a hub containing business support apps, relevant webinars and podcasts, and an array of tips on how to be productive when working from home.

“The company has also created WhatsApp groups for all their sites to keep the co-working community spirit and momentum going, which sees members sharing helpful information, opportunities, motivational playlists, insightful podcasts, and more” adds the Workshop17 CEO.

Suspend don’t cancel

While times are tough for many members, Workshop17 has suggested that members suspend their membership rather than cancel.

The reasoning behind this is that, should your business become operational again, you won’t have to search for an office space again or pay a deposit.

Of course, the decision about what you do with your membership is ultimately up to you.

Keep your distance, stay safe

South Africa is closing in on a month under level four lockdown restrictions and level three – which we enter on 1st June – will see more folks heading into offices for work.

With this in mind companies must be mindful of measures they must take to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection in the workplace.

Thankfully Workshop17 will be assisting members in this regard.

“Our locations across the country are adopting the measures recommended by the government and other public health experts. This includes training our teams to screen members and day-users for signs of COVID-19 when they sign into our premises. Seating our members 1.5 metres apart,” explains Keursten.

“We’re also rolling out increased cleaning as well as sanitising protocols and other initiatives to promote safety on our premises. We are also constantly learning from corporate policies and implementing processes displayed at other leading companies,” the co-founder added.

In addition to the measures above Workshop17 is implementing the following measures:

  • Face masks for members who do not have one
  • Face masks and latex gloves for cleaning teams
  • Alcohol wipes on premises
  • Antibacterial soap for bathrooms
  • Bulk supply of sanitiser bottles that are also available to all members at their hot desks, meeting rooms, event spaces, booths, private offices, etc.
  • Instructing staff and members to stay home if they are not feeling well

In addition, community managers, business development and management teams are working to welcome members back who are able to work from an office.

Workshop17 has taken a rather methodical approach to this situation and it shows. The firm is jumping up to assist its members who might be feeling the financial pinch of lockdown and we commend the firm for taking proactive action.